Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics best offensive player. Their leading scorer. Their leading assist man. Their lone All-Star. The first player under six feet to be named to an All-Star game since Terrell Brandon in 1997 (former Celtic Dana Barros was on the team in 1995). The Celtics feel good story of the year. An asset the Celtics should consider parting with?
That's what Boston.com's Rich Levine hinted at in his extremely helpful guide to the Celtics' trading deadline:
What if the Celtics move Isaiah Thomas? That sounds crazy but — and with all due respect to Thomas — the Celtics aren’t winning a title with IT scoring 20+ points a game. They’re not winning a title with IT playing at an All Star level unless there are at least two All Stars alongside him. Either way, Thomas is still better suited as the sixth man on a contender, but after this season’s success, it will be hard to take a step back. At the same time, he’ll never have more trade value than he does right now. He’s an All Star point guard that’s under contract for another two years for a total of $12.8M. That’s less than the Wizards are paying Nene for this season alone. This is Isaiah’s peak.
Levine goes on to propose a David Lee and Isaiah Thomas for Dwight Howard swap. And mentioned a starting five of Smart/Bradley/Crowder/Olynyk/Howard. Good luck scoring on that group, but also, say good-bye to all these 100 point games we've seen from the Celtics lately.
I mean, you have to admit Levine has some good points here. Isaiah may have been the biggest catalyst in the Celtics surge back to relevance over the past calendar year, but it's hard to imagine him as the centerpiece of a championship team. Teams key on him at the end of games and shut him down. And having Isaiah Thomas on the roster and entrenched in the starting lineup limits flexibility moving forward. Not financial flexibility, Thomas' contract is amazing, but lineup and roster flexibility.
This Celtics team basically has a bunch of plus defenders protecting Isaiah Thomas on the defensive end. And that works. But if Ainge is able to unload some of his assets for an impact scorer, there's going to be some issues if said scorer isn't a two-way player and Thomas isn't the piece used to pry said scorer lose. Even in a highly optimistic scenario where a big time offer to Cleveland or Milwaukee shakes Kevin Love or Jabari Parker free, is the defense of Smart/Crowder/Johnson (if they aren't involved in the trade in the first place) good enough to mask defensive liabilities like Thomas and Love/Parker? Since the Celtics are a few moves away from truly battling the league's elite, using our All-Star to acquire another one may put the Celtics on better footing over the long term.
The flip side of that coin is the offensive end. If we trade Thomas for an offensive weapon, we trade 20 points a game for 20 points a game. And it's unlikely that whoever we get is going to cost as little as Thomas. So doesn't that leave the Celtics in about the same place?
Like every trade offer, Ainge has a lot to weigh. Every player on the Celtics roster can be had for the right price. Ainge isn't looking to trade Thomas, but if an opportunity presents itself to use Thomas to acquire a player he covets he certainly will. Based on the type of team Ainge is trying to build, you have to think that Thomas is less valuable to this team's future than defensive menaces Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder. It will be interesting to see if Thomas name circulates in any trade rumors before the February 18th trade deadline.
Photo Credit David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Paul Colahan 2/05/2016 12:51:00 PM Tweet Edit